Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Teenager Untethers iPhone

NEW YORK -- Armed with a soldering iron and a large supply of energy drinks, a teenager has developed a way to make the iPhone, arguably the gadget of the year, available to a much wider audience.

George Hotz of New Jersey spent his last summer before college figuring out how to "unlock" the iPhone, freeing it from being restricted to a single carrier, AT&T.

The procedure, which the 17-year-old posted on his blog late last week, raises the possibility of a small industry springing up to buy iPhones, unlocking them and then selling them to people who do not want AT&T service or cannot get it, particularly overseas.

The phone, which combines an innovative touch-screen interface with the media-playing abilities of the iPod, is currently sold only in the United States.

An AP reporter was able to verify that an iPhone Hotz brought to the AP's headquarters Friday was unlocked. Hotz placed the reporter's T-Mobile SIM card, a small chip that identifies a phone to the network, in the iPhone. It then connected to T-Mobile's network and placed calls using the reporter's account.

T-Mobile is the only major U.S. carrier apart from AT&T that is compatible with the iPhone's cellular technology, GSM. In Europe and Asia, GSM is the dominant network technology.

The hack is complicated and requires skill with both soldering and software, and missteps may result in the iPhone becoming useless, so few people will be able to follow the instructions.

"But that's the simplest I could make them," Hotz said.

The next step, he said, would be for someone to develop a way to unlock the phone using only software.

Technology blog Engadget on Friday reported successfully unlocking an iPhone using a different method that required no tinkering with the hardware. The software was supplied by an anonymous group of hackers that apparently plans to charge for it.

AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel and Apple spokeswoman Jennifer Bowcock said their companies had no comment. Hotz said the companies had not been in touch with him.

The iPhone has already been made to work on overseas networks using another method, which involves copying information from the SIM chip.

The SIM-chip method does not involve any soldering, but does require special equipment, and it does not unlock the phone -- each new SIM chip has to be reprogrammed for use on a particular iPhone.

Both hacks leave intact the iPhone's many functions, including a built-in camera and the ability to access Wi-Fi networks. The only thing that will not work is the "visual voice mail" feature, which lists voice messages as if they were incoming e-mail.

Apple has said it plans to introduce the phone in Europe this year, but it has not set a date or identified carriers.

There is apparently no U.S. law against unlocking cell phones. Last year, the Library of Congress specifically excluded cell-phone unlocking from coverage under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Among other things, the law has been used to prosecute people who modify game consoles to play a wider variety of games.

Hotz collaborated online with a large number of people to develop the unlocking process. Of the smaller core group, two were in Russia. "Then there are two guys who I think are somewhere U.S.-side," Hotz said. He only knows them by their online handles.

Hotz himself spent about 500 hours on the project since the iPhone went on sale. On Thursday, he put the unlocked iPhone up for sale on eBay, where the bidding topped $12,500 over the weekend. The model, with 4 gigabytes of memory, sells for $499 new.